Interview conducted by Robert Williams
Joe Stump is one of the most accomplished and revered names in neo-classical shred and metal guitar circles. From his work as a gifted solo artist to handling fret scorching duties for Magic Circle Music recording artists HolyHell, Joe has long since established himself at the forefront of today’s top guitar players. Metal-Rules.com recently caught up with Joe to discuss his latest touring activities, his new custom signature "Demonwing" guitar, his thoughts on the untimely passing of the legendary Ronnie James Dio, the return of Reign of Terror and his plans for future recording activities and instructional DVD releases. Those unfamiliar with this six-string ninja are encouraged to pick up his latest career spanning retrospective "The Essential Shred Guitar Collection" out now on Magic Circle Music.
How are you doing today Joe?
All’s cool on my end, just quite busy these days between touring with HolyHell as well as doing shows with my solo thing and I have my day job as the metal specialist on the guitar faculty at Berklee College of Music.
You are currently staying super-busy both as an in-demand solo artist and as lead guitarist for HolyHell. This past January you toured Germany with HolyHell as support for your labelmates Manowar. How did you enjoy shredding for your German fans?
I’ve been to Germany quite a few times now and I always enjoy it, great metal fans, great German beer so what more can you ask for? As I always say, Europe is where metal music is best received and Germany is the metal capital of Europe. It’s always a great experience touring with Manowar, all aspects of the tour are top notch and those guys are very good to us. We get treated quite well for a support act and I speak for the whole band when I say we really appreciate it.
HolyHell has the self-titled debut full length out as well as the "Apocalypse" EP already under your belts, talk to me about working with this all-star line-up that also includes classically trained vocalist Maria Breon, your old pal Jay Rigney on bass, Manowar alumni Rhino on drums and Francisco Palomo on keyboard. How did it all come together? How did you all join forces?
Maria’s the one that had the vision and direction for the band conceptually and she was working with Joey in developing it. I came in later on, I was hired to play some guitar on Jack Starr’s record (ex-Virgin Steele guitarist) and Joey was producing the record for Magic Circle. After that, Joey told me about the HolyHell thing and asked me if I’d be interested in getting involved, so of course I said yes. I brought Jay along with me as he’s a great player and a great guy as well. Rhino was already on drums, he’s a monster drummer, so enough said. Then they brought in Francisco and that really cemented the thing. He’s an amazing musician and by far the most metal keyboard player I’ve ever seen. I have to say as players and people that band gets on great, there’s really a special chemistry between us and I really think as we continue to work together both touring and recording, the thing is only going to continue to get better so our finer moments are certainly ahead of us.
Much of the material on the HolyHell full-length have a certain cinematic quality. Are there any plans to shoot a music video(s) for any of the songs on the record?
Back in 2007 when the EP was released we did a video shoot for the tune Apocalypse, but that never saw the light of day, not sure if it ever will. But no video plans at this point, many of our live shows have been recorded so I’m sure a full length concert DVD will be something in the pipes in the future.
HolyHell’s live recording of the Dio classic "Holy Diver" is currently scheduled for release as part of Magic Circle Music’s upcoming tribute album "Magic – A Tribute To Ronnie James Dio". Would you like to take this opportunity to publicly state what Ronnie meant to you as both a fan and as a musician?
I could go on and on about Ronnie James Dio, he was a brilliant singer, certainly my favorite. As it’s well documented I’m a massive Blackmore fan and as far as I’m concerned it doesn`t get much better than Dio- era Rainbow. I also really enjoy Ronnie’s solo work as well as the Sabbath stuff with him. He achieved so much in his career, I mean it spanned over four to five decades. That and he was still touring and making great records right up until the time he sadly got sick. Also, from what I heard he was a wonderfully kind and cool person, a real gentleman. A fine example for any of us in this business to follow. It’s a terrible loss for the hard rock and metal community.
There are few guitarists walking the earth today as technically gifted as yourself, how did you originally become interested in the guitar? How old were you when you received your first electric guitar?
I first played guitar a short period of time when I was like ten and I used to see shows on TV back in the seventies like the Glen Cambell and Johnny Cash shows, my parents would watch them. I thought it was very cool to play guitar, but I shortly lost interest after a year or so of taking lessons from some old guy showing me Mey Bay’s easy way shit. Then a few years later at like thirteen I discovered Hendrix, then Sabbath and Deep Purple and took it back up, I was instantly hooked and I still am to this day.
Growing up, who would you say were the guitar players that influenced you and inspired you to take your playing to another level of awesomeness?
Ritchie Blackmore, Yngwie Malmsteen, Gary Moore, Uli-Jon Roth I really love Uli`s work on the early Scorpions records. Michael Schenker both UFO and his solo stuff, Jimi Hendrix as well as Al Dimeola. Al’s really the forefather of insanely fast guitar.
I was always drawn to players that could really rip, to me it’s exciting. Of course it has to be music but nothing beats guitar playing that has all the elements that make rock/metal guitar great, killer tone, phrasing, technical skill all played with emotion, balls and attitude.
If you currently had to pick six of your favorite guitarists, who might that be?
Ritchie Blackmore, Yngwie Malmsteen, Gary Moore, Uli-jon Roth, Jimi Hendrix and Michael Schenker.
I also really like Frank Marino, Robin Trower as well as cool metal players like Wolf Hoffman from Accept, Andy LaRocque from King Diamond, John Norum and Hank Sherman and Michael Denner from Mercyful Fate. I also like Japanese shredders Norifumi Shima and Katsu Ohta and Walter Giardino from Rata Blanca, Walter’s a great Blackmore inspired player. I’m a huge guitar fan so I could go on and on.
You have the newly released "The Essential Shred Guitar Collection" out through Magic Circle Music and in addition to that you have a steady string of tour dates, guitar clinics and concerts with HolyHell. Considering you are probably not at home much, I’m going to guess you primarily do your songwriting on the road?
I have been touring on and off with both my solo thing and HolyHell for the last fourteen months or so, but since I`m usually only out on tour for… at the most… a month to five to six weeks or so at a time, I still get a decent amount of time to compose and practice in my work room at home. I do write on tour as well, I’ve got a ton of stuff in the works for both my solo stuff and HolyHell. I’m also going to do another "Joe Stump’s Reign of Terror" record sometime in the future. Depending on how my touring schedule shakes out, we’ll see when I get to recording everything.
Being that a large sum of your classic earlier work released on the Leviathan imprint such as "Night of The Living Shred" and "Supersonic Shred Machine" can often be difficult to find, do you anticipate Magic Circle re-issuing some of those hard to find earlier albums at some point? Have there been any discussions of that nature?
Well, the "Shred Collection" record is the first step in that direction, but it’s tough to say as in this day and age with so many people buying music digitally I’m not sure how much of my back catalogue will be re-issued in hard product format. But of course there will be more hard product in addition to the "Collection" record. All of my titles are currently available digitally so that’s a cool thing just go to www.magiccirclemusic.com
You have released the popular "Chop Builder For Rock Guitar" and "Neo-Classical Guitar Vol 1" DVD’s in the past, with instructional guitar DVD’s at an all-time high in popularity right now, is the timing right for you to film some more tutorials?
Since then I have released a bunch of other instructional DVD’s, Neo-Classical Guitar 2, Neo-Classical Guitar 3, an Arpeggio DVD covering sweep picking and Advanced Hard Rock/ Metal soloing techniques. So I’ve got six out there right now, I am planning on doing a few others in the future and I’m doing a book for Berklee Press as well. So I’ll have more time to get those out when my live playing schedule lets up a little.
What’s the best advice you could give to aspiring heavy metal guitarists out there?
Play because you love it, eat, breathe and sleep guitar because having dedication to your craft and the discipline to devote countless hours to it is what it takes. I didn’t take up guitar to be famous, meet chicks or get a ton of cash. I did it and still do it because I really love music and love to play guitar. I’m just as excited about playing now, maybe even more so than I was when I was a kid.
You have your very own "Demonwing" Joe Stump Signature Series through Magic Circle Guitars. Give us all the specs on this axe and fill us in on how challenging it was to design and personalize your own guitar…
The "Demonwing" is a custom made guitar that I use primarily with HolyHell, it’s a very cool axe visually, it looks like an evil strat. With my solo thing as well as HolyHell I still play my ESP guitars. Both my ESP custom shop strats as well as the "Demonwing" have these features, reverse headstock, graphtech nut, Dunlop 6000 frets, scalloped necks, twenty-one or twenty-two frets. Alder body, Wilkinson vintage style tremolos and Dimarzio pickups with locking tuners. The "Demonwing" has a special master tone circuit designed and built by Dawk Stillwell.
Dawk was Ritchie Blackmore’s tech during various periods of both Rainbow and Deep Purple and Ritchie had several of these in some of his main guitars. It really adds quite a bit to the sound as some of that thick midrange you hear in Ritchie’s sound is partially due to the master tone circuit, I’m having a few put in my ESP strats as well. As far as the idea of designing the "Demonwing", since I’m a traditional straight up strat guy, it was tough. I looked at various different evil metal guitars and kind of combined some things. The tricky part about some of the more radical shaped stuff is the way it fits on your body as compared to a strat, but I managed to get the best of both worlds in that it’s got a radical evil shape but it contours to your body the same way a Stratocaster does. The neck is modeled after one of Blackmore’s early seventies strat necks and the placement of the toggle switch along with the volume/tone controls and tremolo are identical to a strat as well, so it worked out killer.
Let’s talk about The Reign of Terror for a minute. Of course Jay Rigney now performs with you in HolyHell, but are you currently in contact with the other members of The Reign of Terror?
I’ve spoken to Mike a few times, he left the northeast and now lives down in Nashville. He’s doing well down there doing some engineering and producing and he’s still got the Obsession thing going as well. I have the entire next Reign of Terror record written and as I’ve said previously, when I record it really depends on my touring schedule. At this point I’d say it’ll be out sometime next year.
It’s not like I really abandoned the idea of doing more Reign of Terror records I’ve just been too busy with my solo stuff and the HolyHell thing. That and since 2009 my last studio solo record Virtuostic Vendetta was released along with the HolyHell debut and the Ultimate Shred Guitar Collection record, so plenty of Joe Stump related new product out there these days. That’s really my next project recording -wise, the Reign of Terror records have always been well received with both metal fans and the press so there’s no reason not to continue doing them.
This past May, Shooting Hemlock, another project your involved with, released "Big Green Monster" on Dark Star Records, making it the first new Shooting Hemlock album in thirteen years. What would you like to say about the new album? Why did it take so long to complete the second record?
This one isn’t the second record, Dark Star just picked up the first record which never really had an official release. Brian Troch the singer in Shooting Hemlock put that deal together, the whole thing was news to me. But it is a cool heavy record so it’s nice more people will be exposed to it.
What’s next for Joe Stump? Any other plans on the table for the second half of 2010?
More touring, HolyHell is going over to Spain in September and then we’re playing the Female Metal Voices Festival in October in Belgium. I’ve got a bunch of solo dates in the States planned as well. I’m going to definitely finish my instructional book for Berklee Press over the next couple months as I’m way behind the deadline on that. Then schedule the recording of the next set of records. I’m hoping to do a new Reign of Terror and another solo record and they’ll be the follow up to the HolyHell debut so lots of stuff in the pipes for the next year or so.
Thank you Joe for taking the time to talk metal with me today. Before we wrap this up do you have any last words for your fans reading at home?
Just a massive sincere thanks to all the fans that have supported my efforts throughout the years, I really appreciate the support. Hopefully I’ll see a lot of you when I’m out on the road touring.